The Palace Job here.) Weekes continues to build on his fantasy universe and while having all the traditional fantasy elements including elves, dwarves, and at least one unicorn Weekes manages to make it more than just another fantasy adventure. The last book was definitely more of a heist story and while Loch, Kail, and the team are relying on their special talents there's less heist elements and a lot more grand intrigue in this one. But I still really enjoyed this book.
The Empire and Republic are once again on the brink of war, a prospect that only the most die-hard members of the respective governments remotely relish. Loch and Kail have been sent as advisers with a group of Republic diplomats to hopefully avert another war. Unfortunately for them, the entire meeting is a setup and Loch finds herself being pursued by the Crown Princess Veiled Lightning who's determined to bring Loch to trial for her alleged crimes against the Empire. Fortunately Loch and company are always prepared for a betrayal and manage to make it back to the Republic more or less in one piece. Now their only hope of averting war with the Empire is to recover a certain elven manuscript which Loch has more than a passing familiarity.
Personally I think I ended up enjoying this book more than the previous one, at least if my Goodreads activity is any measure to go by. In the first book Weekes had to spend time establishing the characters and universe, an unfortunate necessity when you're writing a fantasy novel of any sort. Now that the universe has already been established, I feel like we got to see the characters develop beyond when we first met them. Particularly we see Ululenia the unicorn and Desiadora the priestess have their own arcs within the book, as well as Hessler and Tern's relationship that is really, really going well for them. And for whatever reason it makes me happy to see that characters are growing as people or just happy with where their lives are and how they're doing. So I give Weekes kudos for not only expanding and clarifying his universe, but making his characters grow as well.
And then there are some truly enjoyable moments in the book which made me smile while I was reading. Whether it was Desiadora dealing with a young man who doesn't understand why girls ''just don't want to go out with nice guys like me'' or Tern yelling at the clever security features incorporated in a document she's trying to forge, there were a lot of things in this book that made me not only enjoy the book but like the characters as well. And maybe that's the greatest strength of the book, I could totally see myself hanging out with some of the characters shooting the breeze about whatever. As much as I like other characters like Arya Stark or Honor Harrington, I don't know if I could see myself being friends with them. But I feel like I could get along with the team in these books.
I will say that I didn't see the twists coming, again, but I think that's mostly because I'm not the most subtle of people and I can't plot my way out of a paper bag. So that at least gives re-read value to look for whatever clues or hints were in the book for the reveal at the end. However, I am a little concerned by one of Weekes's choices with the backstory of his universe. Loch and Kail are both Urujar, which is this universe's term for black people, which is all well and fine. In the last book it was kind of mentioned but not really explored that there was systemic racism against Urujars within Republic society in a mirror of United States society. The problem is that I don't think this is developed much beyond background fluff.
What concerns me even more is this seems to get even worse in Prophecy Con when it's revealed that the Urujar were literally slaves. Like, at some point in the past the Urujar were systematically enslaved because of the color of their skin, exactly like the African slave trade. Obviously there are ways to talk about racism and slavery within a fantasy novel, usually as a foil of the shortcomings of our own society, but it's very easy for this to be done poorly and if it's going to be done, I think it needs to be done well. When Weekes includes it, we don't get much beyond a dwarf shaking his head and thinking, ''What a shame, what those poor people have gone through.'' Which isn't bad, but it feels inadequate for a really heavy subject material. I'm just not sure Weekes is giving the subject matter the attention and weight it deserves and is using it more as set dressing. I don't know, and there are no easy answers. All this being said, I do appreciate that we have Loch, a woman of color who's also just a fantastic character.
Overall though, I thought this book was really enjoyable. I'd definitely recommend it for people who are looking for a less traditional fantasy novel, although you should definitely start with The Palace Job first.